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Siesta Key hotel plans remain contentious

Siesta residents have expressed displeasure with the county’s decision to allow development proposals to proceed without requiring a comprehensive plan amendment.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. August 12, 2021
Attorney Charlie Bailey has appeared in front of county officials to discuss a proposed hotel near the south Siesta Key bridge, but the development review will no longer include consideration of a comprehensive plan amendment.
Attorney Charlie Bailey has appeared in front of county officials to discuss a proposed hotel near the south Siesta Key bridge, but the development review will no longer include consideration of a comprehensive plan amendment.
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Sarasota County staff has determined the proposed development of two hotels on Siesta Key does not require the adoption of a pair of comprehensive plan amendments, removing a regulatory hurdle for projects that have drawn vocal opposition from island residents.

The decision has drawn the ire of Siesta Key residents who discovered the June determination through a records request. Members of the Siesta Key Coalition, a group formed in opposition to the first of four active hotel proposals on the barrier island, said the withdrawal of the comprehensive plan amendments is part of a larger process that has accommodated developers and limited public engagement.

“The effect of this, if it stands, is to streamline the developers’ process, avoid the requirement of a communitywide workshop by the county and circumvent the need for a supermajority vote threshold … by the commissioners,” Siesta Key Coalition President Mark Spiegel said in an email.

In letters to hotel developer attorneys Bill Merrill and Charlie Bailey dated June 14, Todd Dary, the county’s acting manager of Planning and Development Services, acknowledges receiving two separate letters dated May 27 withdrawing privately initiated comprehensive plan amendments. Merrill represents a proposal to build a seven-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar south of Siesta Key Village; Bailey is the attorney for plans to construct a seven-story, 120-room hotel on Old Stickney Point Road near the south bridge.

The comprehensive plan amendment associated with the Old Stickney Point project sought to add language stating that certain properties in the south bridge area are permitted to be redeveloped with hotels that exceed existing density restrictions in the zoning code. In a December 2020 application to the county, Bailey wrote that existing regulations prohibit future development on the barrier islands in excess of standards established in 1989. Bailey said the amendment would “afford greater opportunity” to place a hotel on Siesta Key.

The amendment associated with the Calle Miramar project seeks to eliminate the 1989 standard for any hotels built on barrier islands properties carrying the commercial general zoning designation. Merrill, too, wrote that the provision would facilitate hotel development in a December 2020 letter.

In January, the County Commission voted unanimously in favor of advancing both amendments. Before the amendments could be adopted, the proposals would require a community workshop and three public hearings, according to a staff memo.

On the same day in May, both attorneys sent a letter to the county withdrawing their applications. Dary’s response to both was nearly identical, changing only the identifying code associated with the proposed amendment. Dary said both attorneys provided written analysis demonstrating the proposed projects are consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, stating the hotels could already be allowed by right or by special exception under existing regulations.

“Staff has reviewed the analysis and agrees with the premise and finding as the impetus of your withdrawal,” Dary wrote.

The county did not make a staff member available for an interview or return a series of emailed questions about the determination prior to press time.

At an Aug. 5 Siesta Key Association meeting, Spiegel provided an update on the status of the hotel projects to the resident group. SKA board members also expressed frustration about the county’s handling of the development applications, and although the group raised a series of objections questioning whether the project complies with applicable land-use regulations, Spiegel emphasized the effects of foregoing the consideration of the proposed amendments.

“Everyone on this call should be extremely upset about staff taking that position and not letting that legislative question get to the commission,” Spiegel said.

The county is scheduled to begin its public review of the hotel proposals this month, with the Calle Miramar application going in front of the Planning Commission on Aug. 19. That project and the Old Stickney Point proposal are scheduled to go to the County Commission in October and November, respectively.

There are two additional proposed hotel developments on Siesta Key: a 100-room hotel at 5810 Midnight Pass Road and a 170-room resort on Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Key Village.